The debate over whether newspapers should charge for their content has drawn responses from readers, management, and even a legal blogger, but not too many journalists have weighed in, until now.
Inevitably since I’ve written for The Times, a few readers have questioned why, as the paper’s online content is no longer free. Andrew Denny, for example, wrote: “Is there not an irony in the fact that your Times articles are now online behind a pay wall and not openly accessible?”
It’s a point I’d like to address.
Firstly, this comment is to miss the clear difference between a public body and private industry. The courts are paid for by the public. We have no choice but to pay our taxes — under threat of jail — to support this service, which exists for the benefit of the public as a whole. Whether we like what we get is immaterial to the taxes we must pay. Transparency is one of the only ways to ensure this public body is working efficiently for the benefit of all, not just the elite.
The Times is a private company. Its survival depends entirely on whether people feel they get something of value for the money they pay. Newspapers are not free and they never have been. They can appear to be so, but someone, somewhere is covering the costs, whether that is through advertising, a patron’s largesse, or a license fee. Advertising is no longer subsidizing the industry, and so the cost must fall somewhere — why not on the people who use it?
I actually believe journalism must improve if The Times is asking people to pay for it, as readers are not going to pay for inaccurate rumor or propaganda. They can get that anywhere — for free. What quality journalism can offer is synthesis of a great amount of material, which is then verified and put into language everyone can understand.
I believe the experience and skills I’ve gained over 22 years as a journalist and writer have value, which is why I don’t give away my work for free. I’ve written for The Times because they have valued what I do enough to pay me. The New Statesman magazine also asked me to write an article, but they didn’t want to pay me anything. To me, that shows how much they value quality journalism.
If you don’t think there is any value in the work I, or any other serious journalists do, then don’t spend your money on it. At least you have the choice. You’ll still have to pay your taxes, though.